The role of community leaders in Australian multicultural communities is vital. They assist in helping communities come together and share their culture, whilst learning about a life in a different country. Check out our chat with Sudhir Shakya, a Nepalese community leader in Melbourne.
Name: Sudhir Shakya
Please tell us about when you moved to Australia…
I first came to Australia as a student to study at RMIT University. That was over a decade ago. Once I completed by Bachelor program, I started my professional year placement. During my studies, I fell in love with Australia – there were people from all over the world, the food and sport culture. I found everyone here welcoming and very helpful, in particular when I told them I came from the land of Mount Everest. However, it took me a while to get used to the Australian accent and the Aussie slangs that go with the language and the oval football. Bloody oath!
Do you have any stories about your settlement that you would like to share?
Prior to coming to Australia, I had travelled several countries in Europe and I distinctly stood out as a foreigner. When I came to Australia, it was a totally different experience. Perhaps it’s the diversity of the people from different countries living in Australia, it made me feel at home. It made me comfortable and easy to assimilate in the community and in the workplace. I could have Thai for dinner one night and Italian the next day; or Indian or Souvlaki another day. Then there’s my first encounter with the MCG. I went to watch the much hyped Boxing Day test with friends, only to find later that I was badly sun burnt! So much for the excitement and the lesson about slip slop slap!
How did you become a community leader and what does your role entail?
When I first arrived in Australia, the Nepalese community was very small. Then I came across a newly formed Nepali Association of Victoria, a community organization. I joined the organization as a student member volunteering my time as a Newsletter Editor. I felt that I could contribute time and my skills and to build a growing community. Soon after volunteering became a passion as I felt that I can make a real difference in the community. I went up through the ranks in the Association from an executive member, to a Secretary and a Treasurer. In 2014 I was elected the President of the Association. Victoria is blessed with so much diversity living in harmony. One of my priorities during my presidency was to advocate for cultural harmony and to promote cross cultural engagement and participation within the Nepalese community and with the broader multicultural community in Victoria. I was awarded the Victorian Multicultural Excellence Awards for Meritorious Services in 2012, the first Nepalese to receive such recognition from the Victorian Government.
What do you think are the barriers to communicating with the Nepalese community and how can they be overcome?
Majority of the Nepalese living in Australia came to Australia as a student or a skilled migrant and they generally have good English proficiency. However, the dependent or the family members of the skilled migrants may not necessarily have the same degree of language skills and hence they may find difficulty accessing essential services such as medical, hospital, utility or legal services due to language barrier. The Australian government encourages non-English speaking migrants to learn English through programs such as Adult Migrant English Program (AMEP), which I highly recommend. Meanwhile, they can use the service of professional interpreters to communicate with any service providers. Furthermore, information on essential services needs to be translated and produced in Nepali language which will help them to understand required information. You see many government documents in several LOTE languages, but not all information is available in Nepali language.
What cultural traditions are celebrated within your community in Australia?
Some people say Nepal has more festivals than the number of days in a year. Nepal is a multicultural country with diverse culture and ethnicity. Each ethnic community has their own cultural festivals which have their own significance. In Australia, Dashain and Tihar (festival of light) are the biggest festivals, which are widely celebrated by Nepalese in Australia. Each Nepali ethnic community associations also organize events to celebrate their own festival.
Here are the some of the festivals celebrated in Australia by the Nepalese community:
Maghe Sankranti: January
Sonam Loshar: February
Fagu Purnima or Holi : March
Nepalese New Year : April
Buddha Jayanti: May
Sakela Ubhauli : May
Dashain/Tihar: October / November
Mha Puja: October / November
Chhatha Parva: November
Tamu Loshar : December
How do you envisage the future of the Nepalese community in Australia?
The Nepalese community is Australia has grown rapidly over the last 10 years and will continue to grow in the future. This has already created a demand of Nepali speaking professionals such as nurses, aged care workers, doctors, accountants, lawyers and interpreters, just to name few. Likewise, the number of Australian born children of the Nepalese parents have also grown significantly. Therefore, it has become even important that they acknowledge and respect the culture, tradition and heritage of their parents. I am very excited to see that there has been concerted effort across Australia in the Nepalese community to teach Nepalese language and culture to children. I am optimistic that sooner or later, we will see representation.